From 22 to 27 July, experts are gathering in Washington, D.C., for the International AIDS Society’s biennial conference on rolling back the HIV and AIDS epidemic. UNICEF has hosted a leadership forum stressing the need for innovation in eliminating new HIV infections in children. This story is part of a series illustrating UNICEF's efforts on behalf of children and women affected by HIV.
WASHINGTON, D.C., USA, 24 July 2012 – An AIDS-free generation is now within reach, and children are the key to achieving that goal.
|UNICEF reports on the organization's HIV leadership forum in Washington, D.C. There, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake emphasized that now is a pivotal moment in the battle to eliminate new HIV infections. © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0679/Markisz Watch in RealPlayer|
But innovative thinking aimed at overcoming bottlenecks in delivering services is also essential – not least because it can bring care, treatment and support to the women, babies, and families in greatest need.
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake opened a leadership forum on ‘Innovation for Elimination of New HIV Infections Among Children’ in Washington, D.C., on 22 July, citing the need for bold new thinking and sustained leadership to reverse the HIV and AIDS epidemic for mothers and children.
“To meet the goals of the Global Plan – reducing the number of children newly infected with HIV by 90 per cent from 2009 and keeping their mothers alive – we must become ever more efficient, more effective, and more innovative in our policies … in our products … and in our practices, working together to simplify HIV treatment and integrate it with basic antenatal and primary health care,” said Mr. Lake.
|On 22 July 2012, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta converses with UNICEF HIV/AIDS Chief Craig McClure at the UNICEF/WHO leadership forum on ‘Innovation for Elimination of New HIV Infections Among Children’, in Washington, D.C.|
Preventing mother-to-child transmission
The first half of the forum focused on the World Health Organization (WHO) Options B and B+ for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT). The virus can pass from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. Option B focuses on treatment for the health of the mother and protection of the child through the breastfeeding period, while Option B+ extends to lifelong treatment for the mother, and also includes protection against sexual transmission to partners.
“There is no single solution – no silver bullet – to achieving our goal of an AIDS-free generation. But we believe Options B and B+ can accelerate our progress. And we are committed to supporting the efforts of national governments which wish to adopt these protocols to meet their own unique needs,” Mr. Lake said.
Many countries are considering the transition to Options B and B+, which have higher initial costs but provide long-term savings. John Megrue, Chair of the Business Leaders Council, a private-sector consortium bringing financial knowledge to the global HIV/AIDS response, believes these options make good business sense.
Improving delivery of care
During the second half of the forum, participants took a broad look at the role of programmatic and technological innovation for children and HIV.
Jackline Odongo of UNICEF partner Mothers2Mothers started off the session by sharing her experience supporting other women through PMTCT. She also addressed the critical importance of engaging communities. Improving delivery of support services and creating demand for those services is crucial to eliminating mother-to-child transmission and keeping mothers and families living with HIV alive and well.
|On 22 July 2012, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake addresses participants at the UNICEF/WHO leadership forum on ‘Innovation for Elimination of New HIV Infections Among Children’, in Washington, D.C.|
Ms. Odongo said, “It makes me sad to think that there are still women around the world who still have to struggle and battle with HIV alone. But I hope that everyone present today will help make our dream of having zero children born with HIV in 2015 a reality.”
Ilesh Jani of the Mozambique National Public Health Institute outlined key issues in rolling out point-of-care technology – new diagnostics that are enabling immediate results of HIV and other monitoring tests. By reducing long waits for test results, point-of-care devices also reduce the risk that mothers and babies will be lost to follow-up by health workers. This is especially important in local clinics that have been dependent on centralized laboratories for processing.
These new technologies provide simpler, more direct ways to respond to the HIV and AIDS epidemic – and demonstrate why innovation is so important to achieving an AIDS-free generation. UNICEF is working with partners to support the use of these sophisticated, highly portable devices.
Two major donations on behalf of mothers and children affected by HIV and AIDS were made public in the second session. Nancy Mahon of the MAC AIDS Fund announced a new US$4.2 million grant – the largest contribution ever made by the Fund – to work with children and adolescents living with HIV. And Denis Broun of UNITAID announced a new partnership between the Clinton Health Access Initiative and UNICEF as part of $140 million worth of support to expanding access to point-of-care technology in the developing world.
In closing, Mr. Lake reaffirmed, “Our goals are ambitious, but with so much at stake – the lives of millions of children, the well-being of millions of families, the strength of their societies … we can be nothing less than persistently, relentlessly ambitious.”